On May 5th 2009, Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl and New York-based sound artist Matthew Ostrowski met for a free improvisation concert at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn, NY. Although it had been 8 years since their last performance as a duo, the show turned out to be very powerful, each performer complementing the other in ways neither had anticipated. They were so excited about the results of this almost chance encounter that they decided to make the recording available to the world.
This album is dedicated to the memory of Suzanne Fiol (1960-2009), founder of Issue Project Room.
Liner Notes by Tom Hamilton
I go to a lot of concerts. I actually try to go to fewer concerts, but it never lasts for very long. I have lots of friends playing electronic music, because I've also been doing it myself for 40 years. Seeing friends and hearing electronic music seem to go together, but that's just me. So that's what happened on May 5, 2009, when I schlepped out to Brooklyn to hear Karlheinz and Matt at Issue Project Room.
Sometimes the experience of listening to electronic music is masked to a degree by the "electronic-ness" of it all; the suspicion that we're now being asked to suspend our musical instincts to allow for the intricacies of the media. So we forget for just a little bit that we really do like a big dose of plain old musicianship. What a relief when we finally get it.
Like in all good concerts, what I did not count on was what I actually heard. And like in all good concerts, it felt like a wholly new experience in the art form itself. And now I listen to the CD and I'm reminded again how valuable and desirable we find contrast, drama and excitement - qualities that we wish for in any other music. I listen again as if it were jazz. Surprise!
OK, I can't help it. I will digress to one technical point: An obstacle that faces every performer of our electronic ilk is that electronic and acoustic instruments do not project their sound quality in the same way. Our ears hear the subtlest changes radiating from a clarinet in almost any space. Not so with the electronic sources in that same room. Loudspeakers are usually the culprits - they just don't deliver the punch the way the clarinet does, and microphones just seem to play dumb when they hear anything from a speaker. But in the present recording, I can hear tremendous contrast in dynamic range and a great deal of detail in the sound. This is not because the loudspeakers or microphones were something exotic (they weren't, sorry). Karlheinz and Matt have made their original computer-based instruments with a great deal of attention to those important sonic qualities and how that bears on the resulting music. High resolution plus large dynamic range plus expressive controls equal a terrific sound. And a little recording common sense never hurts. We're reminded of the room, reminded that it was a live event, but never limited by it.
The key to this isn't that it's electronic, computerized, sampled, or really tied to any particular technology, though ironically each of these artists are well-known for having innovated new techniques that help bring the resulting music across. The importance of their work lies in their abilities to improvise with endless shadings ranging between simplicity and complexity, and to channel the overriding musicality to fuel the performance.
And like a really good wine that we're experiencing for the first time, we just know that it's a good drink. Words don't fail us; we just don't need them any more.